How shall we market this wonderful good news of Jesus? What possibly could be the appeal, of following the one who demands so much of us? Doesn’t Jesus know that you catch more flies with honey, and that good marketing sells!
My nephew, that I married last year, Dylan, and his spouse Brooke, know how persuasive good marketing can be. They took one of those vacations where you get a good deal on a condo, if you just take the free tour with the Realtor. It’s all free, just as long as you can say, ‘thanks but no thanks,’ and walk away. Otherwise, you end up, like they did, signing on for a bunch of time-shares. All free today, but you’ll pay down the line, and the clock is ticking! Dylan didn’t know how to say no. He didn’t sit down and estimate the cost, and so, every time he has to tell a family member or friend about it, he gets that ridiculed feeling, like the fellow who couldn’t finish building his spiraling tower!
In this age of marketability, the watch word is, tell the customer what they want to hear – the truth is somewhat less important! Ads become slicker, more attractive, and more entertaining all the time. People, as well as products, are branding themselves, in order to appeal to large crowds. The new teen sensation, Kady Perry’s brand, is all sugary-sweet. Manny Ramirez is the dred-locked, sure-fire, power hitter. Apple, is the innovative leader in all things computerized and downloadable. You can never get enough of them! They make you feel good. They might be swirling in controversy and scandal, but that only makes them hotter. As a distinctive brand, they’re ready to be plucked from the shelf. Their message is wrapped up carefully and attractively, and the last thing they want, is to appear too costly, and push you away!
But isn’t that exactly what Jesus does? Finally, as he becomes so popular that “large crowds are traveling with him,” instead of smiling and waving to them, he wheels around, he turns, and says to them, “none of you can become my disciple, just because you like me, or think I’m the new feel-good sensation! You can only be my follower if you are willing to put me above all other gods in your life.
The Somali born, Canadian artist, K’naan, has been struggling with his popularity recently. Born into the poverty of Mogadishu, 32 years ago, his latest hit song, “Wavin’ Flag,” became the anthem of the World Cup games this year. It doesn’t get much bigger than that! Everyone loved singing the lyric, “They’ll call me freedom just like a wavin’ flag.” But the song is really about K’naan’s personal struggle to find the courage to go on, after a shooting at one of his concerts, some years ago, that left him wounded and 3 band members dead. So K’naan has always prided himself in being a truth-teller. He doesn’t quite fit into the Rap brand of music, or Reggie. He insists he is a-political, but doesn’t shy away from calling it as he sees it.
Before his fame this year, K’naan made quite a splash in 2001, when he was invited to speak at the UN inGeneva for the 50th anniversary of the Commission for Refugee's. Moments before taking the stage, and getting up before the large crowd, he turned, and said to his best friend and band member, Ray Zak, tonight is not the night to entertain, but to speak the truth. That’s not what Ray wanted to hear, who was just there to play. But without mincing words, K’naan went on to move the audience, with his “word piece,” a powerful poem, delivered from his personal experience. "I basically called out the UN for its failed relief mission in Somalia," he said later. Not the expected speech from an invited guest to the UN!
Jesus too, turned, and said to the large crowd, not what they wanted to hear, but the truth that can set us free. Not the slick message that would make him desirable, but what his heavenly parent had called him to proclaim. “If you do not give up all your possessing, none of you can become my disciple.”
What does it take to be a disciple and follower of Jesus these days, in this era of marketability, the digital age of branding yourself, when everyone has a Facebook page? There’s a fine line, of course, between selling yourself truthfully, and selling out. The church is no exception. There are religious workshops to groom your message and make your congregation more acceptable, more marketable, more likeable to the public. As Christianity becomes post-modern, and as our American culture becomes more pluralistic, who we are, is changing rapidly. And churches are encouraged to sell themselves as a brand, without calling people to become disciples. But when does it cross the line? Truth be told, this is not a new dynamic. More than 50 years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his “Cost of Discipleship,” warned of selling the Christian message as “cheap-grace”.
In the end, Christianity, like all religions, deals with life and death questions. Unless you give up all your possessing – our addiction to marketing, traveling whimsically from one fleeting feel-good purchase to another, without being grounded in what truly gives us life, to sit down first to the meal that satisfies – until we follow the one, who through the cross and resurrection, brings us new life, you cannot become a disciple of the one who brings the kingdom that has no end!
This is why at Unity we keep coming back to our Core Values and Vision for what God is calling us to be. “We are an urban green space, welcoming everyone!” It doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun at the same time! Even Jesus, with his face set toward Jerusalem and the cross, didn’t forget to take time to celebrate with his followers, in banqueting meals of forgiveness and healing and joy, enacting with them, the peace and freedom of the new age. And so, we are invited to “feed others, as we have already been fed,” with the grace and love of Christ Jesus.
This, is the marketable good news! Turn, and follow me, says Jesus. The more you identify your cross and calling, the more you will find the Jesus who completes you.
Usually, there comes a time when you realize you cannot do it alone, you cannot take it with you, you cannot win with ten thousand, because as soon as you mount an attack, there is an opponent with twenty thousand. Choosing Jesus, choosing life, are the terms of peace that resolve the question of all our possessing!
You can have “the free offer of a time-share condo,” or you can have the free offer of life and salvation. Come to the table and chose life, where the bread and wine are free, and satisfy all our longings.